So let's look at Pleasantville as a metaphor for an Islamic state, and notice the parallels. First, someone had a vision of a perfect world. In the movie, it was the creator of the Pleasantville TV show, and in Islam, it was Muhammad (or Allah speaking through Muhammad). They each imagined an ideal world.
Now, if everybody does what they're supposed to do, this vision can become a reality and people can enjoy a peaceful, orderly society. The key is getting everyone to do what they're supposed to do. The problem is, people love freedom. And of course freedom brings with it unwanted side effects, as you see in the movie (and as you can see by looking around you).
But the lack of freedom also has side effects.
Which is better, living in a Pleasantville world but having to do what you're supposed to do all the time — or living a life where you choose your own destiny but also have to live in a society with others who are choosing their destiny too? I don't know who can answer that question for all of us, but I know which one I prefer. Give me liberty or give me death.
The movie is about the danger and the splendor of freedom.
When the movie begins, the teenager, David, is in a modern American high school, living in a free society complete with its dangers and unpleasant side effects. David is a fan of an old television show from the fifties. Everything was perfect in the show. It was an ideal world where people dressed nicely, treated each other courteously, where parents had loving, conflict-free marriages, and kids were wholesome and innocent. David yearns for a life like that instead of the messy, chaotic world he lives in. And he gets his wish. He is magically transported into the Pleasantville television show. It's in black and white. Every day is a perfectly sunny 72 degrees. It never rains. Everything is very pleasant.
But he discovers that there is a cost to living in paradise — a drastic lack of freedom. In the movie, when the teenagers started having sex and the world was beginning to go Technicolor, the leaders of the town were alarmed. Things were getting out of control. And you can see they had good intentions when they tried to make it go back to the way it was.
That's what the Taliban did in Afghanistan back in the 90's (you can see an accurate depiction of their perfect world in the movie, Osama). And that's what they tried to do with the 1979 Iranian Revolution. And what Saudi Arabia is doing. And ISIS. And Boko Haram. They're trying to force the world to match Muhammad's vision. They're trying to make everyone follow the rules laid down in the Islamic trilogy. They're trying to create the ideal world. They are struggling against human beings' natural desire for freedom. They have to use force to get people to do what they're supposed to do all the time. Islamic law uses extreme force and it still can't get everybody to conform.
And who hasn't had the same conflict in her own life? Haven't you? Haven't you gone through cycles of cracking down on yourself and then loosening up? Haven't you ever gotten a regime all worked out so you can get in shape or whatever and then after awhile you start feeling closed in by it and you want to break out of the restricting, regimented monotony?
When I was younger, I spent many fruitless hours trying to come up with the perfect system. A perfect week would have a certain amount of exercise, a certain amount of communication with loved ones, writing time, goofing off time, etc. A perfect life plan is not very difficult to come up with. But actually doing it turns into a nightmare of routine. Most people would never do something like that voluntarily for very long. I loved creating the perfect system, but I hated living in it. And it was my system. What if someone else created the system?
Our longing for freedom and change and adventure always makes us want to break out. The Koran says the solution is to enforce the system from the outside. People can't do it on their own, or at least that is the assumption. But if you could make everyone in a society follow the perfect system, and enforce it with punishment, you could have a perfect society. This is kind of the same principle behind personal trainers, right? You get your motivation and discipline from the outside. The trainer makes you work out. Except Islam is more extreme and more comprehensive. It regulates every aspect of life and enforces the rules with serious consequences.
Pleasantville, the men join together and try to restore order, under the banner of the Pleasantville Chamber of Commerce. They try to enforce pleasant behavior. They create a code of conduct for everyone to live by and they punish those who rebel.
And what you see in the movie is what happens in real life. People feel a conflict. Yes, they want a pleasant society, but not at the cost of their personal freedoms.
Many wonderful and terrible things didn't exist in the perfect world of Pleasantville: Art, sex, women's rights, creativity, exciting music, novelty, love, passion, anger, awakening, self-discovery, self-expression, disagreement, conflict, change, violence, book-burning, discovery, exploration, experimentation, new experience, rebellion, defiance, personal growth, and the list goes on and on. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
What does it take to keep the ugly and bad stuff away? You have to get rid of a lot of the good stuff. That's what it takes. And you have to make it a crime to step out of line. You need punishments. So the perfect world has its own ugly side. Do you know about the punishments in Islamic law? If you steal something, they cut off your hand. If you have premarital sex or drink alcohol, you get flogged. For adultery, both the man and the woman are stoned to death.
The punishments are intentionally extreme so they are a strong deterrent. They don't cut very many hands off because that law really discourages theft, and after getting caught twice, a criminal doesn't have any hands left to steal with. I heard an international traveler say he accidentally left his briefcase in an airport in Dubai. He came back two weeks later and the briefcase was in the same spot. It hadn't be touched.
I'm not advocating this by any means. You already know how I feel. I believe in freedom. But that doesn't mean people who try to create the perfect society are necessarily evil.
I think the movie could help freedom-lovers sympathize with the perfect-world-lovers because after all, we in the audience are also attracted to the perfect world of Pleasantville at first. We sympathize with David, who wants to get away from his sometimes ugly, sometimes painful life. He longs for "a simpler time."
And the movie could also help the perfect-world-lovers see the beauty and magnificence of freedom — and the joy of not knowing what's going to happen next. And the satisfaction of choosing your own destiny.
In the book, Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals, Robert Pirsig wrote about the difference between static quality (the perfect world, everything stays the same) and dynamic quality (a free society, new things happen), and how these two forces are always and necessarily in conflict, and in a way the tension between the two is a good thing in the long run, or at least could be a good thing. But if a group becomes hell-bent on creating the perfect world and allows almost no freedom (an Islamic state) it becomes a nightmare. This is something we must prevent from happening. The rise of orthodox Islam must be pushed back. Wherever it increases its influence, human beings will live in misery.
And the same goes for any other perfect, ordered, ideal world anyone tries to impose on others. Right now the most dangerous one to human freedom is orthodox Islam. It deliberately and drastically curbs freedom, especially for women. Orthodox Islam cannot be allowed to expand, even if we sympathize with their desire to live in a thoroughly ordered world.
In one of the scenes in the movie, David and his girlfriend are sitting on a lawn by a lake. She has just found out that David has seen the world outside of Pleasantville. Until recently, she didn't even know an outside world existed. She asks him, "So what's it like out there?"
He says, "Well...it's louder. And scarier, I guess. And it's a lot more dangerous."
"It sounds fantastic!" she says enthusiastically. Sure. For someone whose life has been ordered and perfect, a little dynamic quality, a little unpredictability, a little creativity, would be like cool water to someone dying of thirst. It's the glory of human nature living in a free society, and a downside comes with it.
With freedom, you have to learn to live with the fact that things aren't the same any more and never will be. That's tragic. And it's also wonderful.
Orthodox Islam is in direct conflict with freedom. Always remember this: Wherever orthodox Islam is marginalized, discredited, and disempowered, people (and especially women) will break out of the prison of their black and white world and discover a new Technicolor world of freedom.